RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – More than 73,000 people in North Carolina applied for unemployment benefits in just the last week. They joined more than 500,000 who are also unemployed.
However, CBS 17 learned that there are thousands of suspected cases of people fraudulently obtaining those benefits. They’re being investigated.
“I had not applied for unemployment insurance,” said Triangle resident Berry Credle. Yet, he got a letter from the state saying he needed to give it more information before his benefits could be paid.
“I believe there is some fraud going on,” he said. Credle also told them “to make sure you are not sending checks because I haven’t applied for unemployment insurance.”
It turns out there was fraud involved. Credle’s case isn’t the only one of its kind since the COVID-19 pandemic set in.
The North Carolina Department of Employment Security said that, between March 1 and July 1, it flagged “thousands of suspicious claims” and placed them on hold for review.
“To have someone rip the rug out from under the people who need it seems very frustrating and infuriating,” Credle said.
CBS 17 previously reported that North Carolina is among seven states the Secret Service is investigating unemployment fraud by criminal organizations. DES has already flagged 129 cases of suspected identity theft.
“The identity theft category typically includes instances in which a scammer uses someone’s personal identifying information to receive or attempt to receive unemployment benefits,” said department spokesperson Larry Parker.
The information may have been obtained through outside data breaches, email phishing, impersonation scams, or other messages.
“When potential ID theft is discovered, DES puts a hold on a claim,” Parker said.
Also, since March 1, the DES has flagged about 2,600 cases of suspected wage or earnings fraud. That kind of fraud includes instances in which a claimant makes false statements, gives false information, or withholds information to receive benefits.
“An example would be when a claimant continues to receive benefits after returning to work and does not report their earnings,” Parker said.
it was identity theft in Credle’s case. His information was obtained through the Equifax breach in 2017. It exposed birthdays, social security numbers, addresses, and more.
When he told DES he hadn’t applied for benefits, Credle said, “They asked if I was part of the Equifax data breach and I was.”
Millions of people were notified that they were victims of the breach and Equifax promised to protect them. Credle said he took advantage of the offer to protect his accounts.
“They are frozen, yes. And, to this day, it takes quite a bit of effort to get any kind of credit check,” he said.
The state told Credle it is still trying to determine who applied for the benefits in his name.
“I feel badly for the people who really need the money and can’t get it,” he said.
Meanwhile, DES said it is spending $2 million from the Coronavirus Relief Fund to enhance systems and prevent future cyber attacks on its database.
“(DES is) participating in the National Association of Workforce Agencies’ Integrity Data Hub, which provides a multi-state database of known and potentially fraudulent claims,” Parker added.
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